Major space companies pledge to boost diversity and publicly share hard numbers – TechCrunch

The world of aerospace has come a long way from the boys’ club it once was, but there’s still a long way to go. Today, 24 companies, including big old and new like ULA, SpaceX, JPL and Rocket Lab, have pledged to improve diversity and inclusion, with regular checks to stay honest.

The Space Workforce 2030 commitment is just that, a commitment, not a set of shared concrete actions, but it would take years for some 20 major space companies to agree on the exact steps to take. Thus, the companies agreed to “significantly increase the number of women and employees from underrepresented groups in our collective technical workforce” and in leadership positions; work with universities to improve the diversity of aerospace engineering programs; and to sponsor K-12 programs that reach at least 5 million children each year.

To reduce the risk of this all being lip service, each company will consolidate its employment target numbers and present them annually at the Space Symposium conference. They will also come together to share best practices and try to inspire others to get involved.

I have already witnessed this last promise in action; I happened to be moderating a panel of interesting people from the space industry while this announcement was going around, so I asked them for their thoughts on engagement and what is needed in the world of DEI. Here are their comments (slightly edited):

Melanie Stricklan, CEO of Slingshot Aerospace (signatory):

It helps us build better teams, it helps us build better products, it helps us build a better industry, and this industry needs more diversity, evil. When we launched Slingshot, my goal was to be 50/50, 50% male and 50% female, and we just hit that target. It’s led by a leader, we need to make sure that every person we hire who is a leader in this company buys DEI. So that it’s not just a CEO saying hey, we want this – it needs to be cultivated regularly.

Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab (signatory):

I hesitated to sign this pledge because I wanted to see what was really going on, because there are a lot of signals of virtue in a lot of these things. I am the father of an 8 year old daughter and I literally see the stereotypes evolve before my eyes. So at Rocket Lab, many years ago, we said, “Fine, we’re going to require that 50% of all our interns be women.” And that’s fine, you can mandate something, but if you don’t get the job done, it’s a complete waste of time. So the team went out and we visited, I think, something like 200 schools… you have to get there very early, you have to build the pipeline. Really create change, not just some sort of sign of change.

Left to right, Peter Beck, Melanie Stricklan, Jessica Robinson and Meagan Crawford in a panel moderated by Devin Coldewey.

Jessica Robinson, co-founder of Assembly Ventures:

For women in particular, if you can see it, you can be it. But I’m not sure this group really appreciates how odd it is that we have three women on this panel…we don’t get much of a chance to sit together as female investors on panels. In our fund, with the power of the wallet, what’s really critical for us is making sure we find the best companies that are going to change the world and the way we operate. And my God, are we stupid if we don’t go looking for great founders in great places that have never been visited before! So we mentor in a program that supports LGBTQ founders, I’m doing a ground to support women founders and investors, and in Detroit, my hometown, we work a lot with young students, students of color, to expose them to STEM.

Meagan Crawford, managing partner at Spacefund:

Early in my career as a startup executive, I was often the only woman in the room, whether it was a space meeting or a finance world, so both of those worlds have a bit of a hard time with that. Before I joined this industry, I had a misconception that it was just scientists and rocket engineers, no offense. The reality is there’s so much more to this industry, it’s an industry like any other – we need accountants, we need marketing people, we need teachers, we need everything. So I love interviewing women from all walks of the industry who have these different backgrounds and different career choices. One of my favorite stories is that of Kelly Larson, CEO of Aquarian Space; she started as a yoga teacher, now she’s the CEO of a space start-up. It’s an amazing trip! And I want women everywhere to know that whatever their career, whatever their background, there is a place for them in this industry.

Thanks to the panel for their input and insight on this and other issues.

Here is the full list of signatories to date:

  • Roy Azevedo, President Raytheon Intelligence & Space
  • Payam Banazadeh, CEO of Capella Space
  • Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab
  • John Elbon, Chief Operating Officer of United Launch Alliance
  • Jim Chilton, senior vice president of space and launch at Boeing
  • Eileen Drake, CEO and President of AeroJet Rocketdyne
  • Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic
  • Tim Ellis, CEO of Relativity Space
  • John Gedmark, CEO of Astranis Space Technologies
  • Steve Isakowitz, CEO of The Aerospace Corporation
  • Larry James, Acting Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Daniel Jablonsky, CEO of Maxar Technologies
  • Robert Lightfoot, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space
  • Dave Kaufman, President of Ball Aerospace
  • Chris Kemp, CEO of Astra
  • Will Marshall, CEO of Planet
  • Dan Piemont, President of ABL Space Systems
  • Peter Platzer, CEO of Spire Global
  • Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX
  • Melanie Stricklan, CEO of Slingshot Aerospace
  • John Serafini, CEO of HawkEye 360
  • Dylan Taylor, CEO of Voyager Space
  • Amela Wilson, CEO of Nanoracks
  • Tom Wilson, President of Space Systems at Northrop Grumman
  • Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin

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